When the new Crackle series “StartUp,” starring Martin Freeman (“Sherlock,” “The Hobbit”), debuts later this year, you might notice an appearance by Jose Cuervo. Or you might not.
The tequila brand has a product placement in the show courtesy of Branded Entertainment Network (BEN), owned by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, which recently signed a deal with the Sony-owned, ad-supported streaming service to have first look access to its slate of original feature films and series for brand integrations.
While Jose Cuervo is in “StartUp” to make an impression on viewers, BEN took pains to work with Crackle and the show’s producers so it didn’t make a spectacle of itself.
“We don’t think it’s good for either party to have a moment that is disruptive because it’s so notable,” said Caressa Douglas-Lupold, SVP of content and integration at BEN. “We’re showing characters celebrating and having moments together, drinking Jose Cuervo in an intended use. It doesn’t sound sexy [in conversation], but I think it’s important to note that our purpose with our brand integrations is to be organic.”
BEN’s deal with Crackle includes drama “The Art of More,” starring Dennis Quaid, Kate Bosworth, Christian Cooke and Cary Elwes; the stop-motion animated comedy series “SuperMansion,” featuring the voices of Bryan Cranston, Seth Green, Keegan-Michael Key and Jillian Bell; and the weekly game show series “Sports Jeopardy!” hosted by sportscaster Dan Patrick
Crackle will use BEN’s technology, content database and analytics to improve its integration opportunities. But BEN intends to keep it organic with Crackle by being involved in the process from the early stages of development with the producers and the marketing department, as well as the brands.
“We’ve heard feedback from our producers that we’ve worked with [at other networks] that sometimes they’re blindsided by [brand] deals and it’s very forced,” said Lupold. “But if you start very far out upstream from when you’re going to camera, that gives you that time to really write a great story with a brand.”
While some might roll their eyes at the idea that a brand could be integral to good storytelling, with the proliferation of online video platforms ever hungry for more content and ways to finance it, brands are involved in the production process in a way they haven’t been since the early days of television in the late ’40s and early ’50s with shows like “Texaco Star Theatre” starring Milton Berle.
Brands are particularly active in the social video space, pouring money into everything from short-form series starring YouTubers to sponsored Vine and Snapchat promotions. Mindful of the growth, in April 2015, BEN acquired Plaid Social Labs, a Provo, Utah-based agency specializing in connecting brands with digital influencers.
At the same time, the proliferation of ad-free platforms, from cable networks HBO and Showtime to SVOD services Amazon and Netflix, means that brands can’t sell their wares around the product, so they must find ways to integrate them into the stories themselves, which brings them back to BEN’s core service. And the increasing efforts by streaming services’ to secure first window global rights to content has made brand integrations even more vital and enticing.
“Years ago, that film and music were really the only global connectors to audiences,” observed Lupold. “But, now, with our content here being streamed globally, we have clients in Germany and Japan who want to be on the same Netflix and Amazon series.”